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Adult care firm owner gets suspended sentence
Man found guilty in neglect case
Friday, October 19, 2012
By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer
“I love Joe, and I miss him.”
That was the final statement Richard C. Wagoner Jr. made Thursday before Martinsville Circuit Court Judge G. Carter Greer sentenced Wagoner to five years in jail, all suspended, contingent on one year supervised probation and 10 years of good behavior.
Wagoner was found guilty in May of abuse or neglect that resulted in the death of Joe Tuggle, an incapacitated man who lived in an adult home owned by Wagoner’s company, the Claye Corp.
Tuggle, 57, died Feb. 18, 2011, about 10 days after he was scalded in a bathtub and suffered second- and third-degree burns on 25 to 30 percent of his body, according to previous reports.
According to testimony at Wagoner’s May trial, Tuggle was treated at the adult home with first aid cream, ointment and cold compresses.
If Tuggle had received treatment at a burn center, he would have had a 25 percent chance of survival, according to prosecutors and defense attorneys in court Thursday.
Four people testified Thursday on Wagoner’s behalf, including Wagoner; his wife, Kay Wagoner; Nellie Fisher; and Carolyn Crabtree.
Wagoner said he had worked with mentally disabled people for 30 to 35 years, including 13 years in a supervisory position at Piedmont Community Services before developing his own adult care business in 1996, he said.
The business began with four employees; now there are about 80 employees who serve about 80 clients per day, Wagoner testified.
“Pretty much all I’ve ever done is take care of people” with special needs, Wagoner said. “I try to put everybody ahead of me.”
He said he treated employees and clients like family. “When something happens to one of us, it affects us all,” he said.
Because Wagoner was convicted of a felony, his career in that field is over, according to James McGarry, a member of Wagoner’s legal defense team that also included Jim Haskins and David Williamson.
Wagoner also testified that he is working to sell his business that includes other adult homes, and expects to have the sale completed by mid-November, McGarry said.
The knowledge that he will not be able to work in the field anymore “breaks my heart,” Wagoner said.
Kay Wagoner testified that her husband “had a dream of taking care of the less fortunate,” and that sparked him to take action.
Fisher, who has known Wagoner since 1985 and worked for him, testified that he always made sure “the residents had whatever they needed,” even if he had to pay for it out of his own pocket.
Crabtree testified that her 25-year-old daughter, who “is blind, autistic and profoundly handicapped,” has lived in one of Wagoner’s company’s homes for three years and had a good experience.
The level of care she has received “is completely inconsistent with the charges” against Wagoner, Crabtree said.
The judge denied a motion from the defense to reconsider the case.
“This is a tragic case. Words don’t really adequately describe what happened here,” Greer said. “It was a horrific situation.”
Before passing sentence, Greer said the court “always has to balance and temper justice with mercy.”